Anita Newton, the former chief marketing officer at Adknowledge, is helping launch an innovation lab with CommunityAmerica Credit Union.
A lean startup evangelist and co-founder of Mighty Good Solutions, Newton began her new CommunityAmerica gig Monday as its chief innovation officer. With the new role, Newton said she’ll be creating an independent innovation lab that will help create products and services for the credit union.
Newton said she’s thrilled for the opportunity to innovate new ideas and encourage further entrepreneurial problem-solving.
“The goal really is to use the principles from startups and lean methodology to create new products that offer peace of mind at every stage of a member’s life journey,” she said. “It’s rare to have a company in Kansas City where you can be an entrepreneur, build products and services but also have the resources of an institution. It’s kind of a unicorn in Kansas City.”
A regional organization, CommunityAmerica is the largest credit union in the Kansas City area. It has 210,000 members, 27 branches and manages more than $2 billion in assets.
Newton said the innovation lab will focus on creating tools for CommunityAmerica members throughout their lives. Whether planning for college, getting married, having kids or dealing with the loss of a family member, the lab will focus on creating member value through targeted products. Organizationally, the lab will function as a startup within CommunityAmerica and will be an independent, for-profit entity, she said.
Newton said she’s been thoroughly researching other corporate innovation labs and understands the value it can create for an organization and its customers. She’s excited to see the lab cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset that “cross-pollinates” within the larger organization.
Newton also emphasized the importance of corporate innovation labs to have a clear definition of success and that its metrics are different than the larger organization.
“Innovation labs fail when they’re not set up for success,” she said. “You have to have a clear business strategy and be open to a different, but transparent set of metrics that are rooted more in customer behavior initially and not necessarily revenue or profits and loss. … You have to have autonomy to rapidly iterate, test and fail. And you will fail. There will be more products that aren’t successful than will be successful and there has to be an appetite for that and it has to come from the top down.”
Newton said that CommunityAmerica’s CEO, Lisa Ginter, has that appetite. She said that Ginter has prioritized the lab’s creation to create new ideas and better serve for members.
“She’s the visionary behind it,” Newton said. “Her view is that you can have financial success but it doesn’t always give you peace of mind. She wants to bring to market life-planning tools to help their members at every life stage.”
To source ideas, Newton plans to create an open innovation platform through which any CommunityAmerica employee can submit ideas. In addition, she said that the lab will engage the area startup community to garner ideas. Eventually, she hopes to launch an incubator program that taps startups and entrepreneurs to develop products with CommunityAmerica.
“Good ideas can come from anywhere,” Newton said. “We’ll source new ideas from employees — where we get a lot of great ideas — but we also want to tap into the knowledge and expertise outside the company. We’ll be looking at an incubator program to help come up these ideas. … Like with any startup, there’s risk, but I really feel the credit union has set this up for success.”